We had another great time at the Newport Folk Festival this year. The weather was warm, and the venue, Fort Adams, was as picturesque as ever.
It’s become a tradition for Jess and me to go to folk fest with my parents. We love having them with us. This year was especially fun because it was my parents’ third year at the festival, which makes them veterans. They were able to weigh in on decisions, and they even had their own gameplan mapped out.
Shortly after entering the venue, we saw a highly entertaining set by Fantastic Negrito on the main stage. This guy is a great performer and he expertly blurred songs together using bizarre stories and banter. His set sometimes had a mystical feel to it, as if he was telling us ghost stories. I’d like to see him do a Halloween set in cramped, dark, smokey concert hall someday.
In the afternoon heat, we saw a new band, Glorietta, play at The Quad stage. The Quad is a relatively intimate stage as far as festivals go, and it has the power to make some artists shine. But it also seems to get the best of many bands, making them seem like amateurs struggling to keep things afloat. Noah Gunderson, one of the several singer-songwriters in Glorietta, did a great job at this stage and expertly mixed his firey, passionate vocals with reserved down-beat instrumentals in the song Golden Lonesome. After that song, Matthew Logan Vasquez picked the crowd back up with some rocking singalongs.
A highlight of the midday was Lucius, a band built around two harmonizing frontwomen. They had such a unique and unusual stage presence, it was fun to watch. They had a trio of dancers who added to the strangeness. Brandi Carlile joined them for a song, but I don’t think she added enough to the performance to make up for disrupting the perfect harmonization the band would have had without her.
The late afternoon set by Sturgill Simpson surprised me. I was expecting a lot of slow southern crooning but instead saw a rock-and-roll jam fest. It was great. Whenever he sang, Sturgill’s voice would boom through the crowd with strength and with such a low frequency you could feel your internal organs vibrate around. In a good way.
Near the end of the day, St. Vincent played on The Quad stage. We only saw three songs before leaving a little disappointed. She was doing stripped-down versions of her songs with only a piano accompanying her vocals - but it didn’t really work. It seemed like the things that make St. Vincent songs good were lost in that stripping-down process. What was left was overwhelmingly avant-garde and slightly boring. She might have recovered in the second half of the set, or she might have fallen victim to the overwhelming intimacy of the Quad stage.
Last, we saw headliner Jason Isbell finish the night on the main stage. He put on a good show, albeit a little depressing at times. We were going to sneak out a few minutes early to beat the notoriously bad traffic, but we were convinced to stay by a nearby stranger hinting at a surprise guest. We were fortunate because soon thereafter, David Crosby joined the stage for two iconic songs.
Overall it was a really great time. It's a shame that the Newpork Folk Festival stops its music as early as it does (7:30 PM)! I would love to hang out at Fort Adams and listen to music after sundown.